State of Decay (2/10)

Reel-to-reel Cassette, June 1981. Pickwick.  Compact Cassette, 1985. Ditto
Narrated by Tom Baker.
Written by Terrance Dicks.
Between Full Circle and Warriors’ Gate


This story was written by the ex-Script Editor of the Pertwee era, Terrance Dicks, now a freelance writer. It was originally entitled The Witch Lords and was intended to begin season fifteen (the season which eventually ended with Leela leaving the series). However, due to the fact that BBC 1 was already working on a big Dracula serial the Doctor Who office were asked not to make it at that time. Instead, Terrance Dicks rapidly wrote Horror of Fang Rock, introducing the series to the Rutans, the arch-enemy of the Sontaran race which had often been referred to but never yet seen.

This story was then held back until 1980 by which time a new companion, Romana, had joined the series. In fact she was now in her second incarnation, played by Lalla Ward. It was during the production of this story that Tom Baker and Lalla Ward announced their engagement, surprising all the crew working on the programme, as earlier in the production the two leads were actively fighting, even refusing to look at each other when in front of the camera!

However, we are dealing with the narration of the novelisation so I need not go into further detail. The narration is of the book, not the TV version so there is no soundtrack, just fifty-six minutes of Tom Baker (or 58 with jaunty opening and closing music – not the Doctor Who theme – if you’re listening to the 1985 cassette).

+++++

Side 1
The Doctor, Romana (in her second incarnation) and K-9 are lost in N-Space, but the robot dog has located a planet with metal objects on it, which means a civilisation exists. The Doctor decides to land there and ask for help fixing their position.

They land in some woods in daytime. The Doctor spots a distant tower with turrets. Clustered around the base of the tower is a collection of buildings. When the Doctor and Romana arrive (K-9 is instructed to wait in the TARDIS) they notice there’s no people around. Voices can be heard in the communal hall of this small village.

Inside the hall the headman of the village, Ivo, protests to Habris that the peasants are starving and need more food from the nobles. Habris, the Head Guard of the tower, who fears the nobles’ wrath says he will try. Ivo complains that Habris said this when they took Ivo’s son away. Before the argument can continue much further they stop, terrified, upon seeing the Doctor and Romana in the doorway. Presumably from their noble bearings. Ivo and Habris question them as they’ve never seen strangers before. The Doctor asks for a scientist and the men quickly state that “such things are forbidden”, clamming up. Habris scurries away to the tower.

Frustrated at the lack of answers, Romana leaves, the Doctor right behind her. Ivo hurries to a concealed communicator and tells a man on the other end, Talmar, of the two strangers who were asking about scientists.

In the TARDIS, K-9 bumps into a stowaway, Adric, who’d been on the last planet they’d landed on. Adric uses logical arguments to get past K-9 and out of the ship.

As the Doctor and Romana walk back to the TARDIS their way is barred by men in grey cloaks who lead them away to a hidden passageway. Deep in the ground they emerge into a chamber full of technology, all disassembled and people who clearly live there.

Side 2
The Doctor and Romana meet an old man, Kalmar who perks up upon hearing the Doctor’s name. He’s keen to speak to a scientist. The Doctor sits at a computer console and complements Kalmar on getting some of the equipment functioning. Kalmar boasts that they have a generator but one of the others interrupts to tell Kalmar that what they really need is weapons. Kalmar replies that it will take some time before they’ll be able to make them. But when they have, they will overthrow their oppressors.

Kalmar explains to the Doctor that the peasants had revolted against the Lords in the Tower and fled into the forests where they’d found the dumped components. Being the last of the villagers who knew how to read, they began to learn from operator manuals how the equipment functioned. Since that time reading has been forbidden by the Lords; the penalty for reading is Death. Excluding a selected few (who are taken to the tower) the villagers must toil all their lives. Those that are selected either become guards or are never seen again.

The Doctor brings the console back to life and Romana reads from the screen. It was a console from an Earth ship, the Hydrax. The crew manifest reads

Captain: Miles Sharkey

Navigator: Lauren MacMillan

Science Officer: Anthony O’Connor

with photos beside them. Talak, the leader of the party that brought the Doctor and Romana there, is horrified. He recognises the faces as his Lords, Zargo, Camilla and Aukon. The Doctor and Romana decide to investigate the tower.

Tramping through the forest with Romana, the Doctor is bitten by a bat. A swarm (or is it a flock? A herd?) of bats appear and chase them before suddenly flying away. Out of the frying pan, the Doctor and Romana bump into tower guards and led into it, up to the throne room. There they meet Lord Zargo and Lady Camilla, two pale people with red lips and burning eyes, who seem to already know about them. Camilla notices a graze Romana received during the capture and moves towards it, Romana pulling back.

The Doctor mentions the Hydrax log, which disturbs the two aristocrats. But before any kind of reckoning can be done Habris, the guard captain, enters with a message. Lord Aukon has seen an omen; it is time for The Arising. Excitedly, Zargo and Camilla rush, leaving the Doctor and Romana waiting for them.

The Doctor and Romana are discussing the crew when the Doctor mentions Chinese Whispers with Romana asking what that’s got to do with Zargo and Camilla?

Side 3
The Doctor explains that language changes over time, explaining that Sharkey, MacMillan and O’Connor’s descendants are Zargo, Camilla and Aukon. Further, the tower is actually the Hydrax, revealing the pilot and co-pilot’s seats. Romana finds an inspection hatch. The Doctor leads them up and up and up into the Control Room of a scout ship, one of the turrets of the Tower. It is still being powered. The Doctor hears a distant throbbing which Romana assumes is the engine. The Doctor disagrees, suspecting something horrible.

They climb down, down, down into a dark chamber holding the fuel tanks. Turning on the lights, they are surrounded by racks of corpses, all drained of blood. In the fuel tanks there is no fuel, but blood.

Moving down to the base of the tower they are in the rocket vents. They crawl through them, finding the source of the throbbing. Romana suggests that the sound is a huge heartbeat. The blood from the fuel tanks is piped down to somewhere beneath the ground, feeding something. The Doctor tells her that Vampire legends are found on almost every planet.

Exploring the cavern they find a room with an altar. Suddenly a voice disturbs them. Aukon welcomes them. He warns them that the three Lords have great power. Suddenly the Doctor realises that Aukon is O’Connor. Aukon explains that their master made mental contact with him, bringing the Hydrax to this world, where he has been sustaining them and now he is ready to arise. He urges the Doctor and Romana to join him as Adric has.

Aukon offers them the choice of joining them or being their prey. The Doctor lets slip that he and Romana are Time Lords. Aukon recognises them as their enemy race. Camilla and Zargo enter, intending to drain the two timelords until Aukon halts them. He is being instructed by his master that they have been chosen for sacrifice and they are locked in a cell.

The Doctor relates to Romana a legend of ancient Gallifrey at war with Vampires. Suddenly Talak appears and frees them. Romana says they must free Adric. Talak and Romana go in search while the Doctor

Romana finds Adric who has not yet been changed into a vampire. As the three turn to leave their way is barred by Zargo and Camilla. Talak tries to fight Zargo but is killed. Angrily, Camilla turns on Zargo saying they need blood of the living. Both vampires turn towards Romana and Adric.

Side 4
Again, Aukon calls them off. Adric has been Chosen to be one of them and is taken away to be prepared for the ceremony. Romana is taken away to be prepared for sacrifice. The three vampires go off to prepare also.

The Doctor arrives at the rebel base. They will help, but Kalmar doesn’t believe there’s anything under the ground. The Doctor uses the computer to show an X-Ray of a huge bat-like shape beneath the tower and the heartbeat is heard through the speakers. They plan to attack at night but can’t figure out a way to kill the vampire.

On arriving at the tower, they find the state room deserted. The Doctor warns them off to hold the tower until they hear the great engines, at which point they must flee as far as possible. He leaves them to climb up to the Scout Ship.

At the ceremony, a guard dashes in warning the vampires that the tower is under attack. Aukon refuses to help, telling the guard to fight to the last man. Cracks begin to appear in the floor. Aukon begins a rite over Romana’s hypnotised body. Aukon’s bats are summoned and he commands them to drink her blood. They swarm over her.

Gradually the Doctor is able to power up the scout ship. He sets some commands and rapidly leaves as the engines grow louder.

The noise of the engines rouse Romana. Adric pulls her from the altar. The Doctor enters to hear the Great Vampire’s heart beat louder and stronger. Aukon is ecstatic, “The Great One rises!”.

The Scout Ship launches, flies up and then heads straight back down, its prow piercing the heart of the Great Vampire who dies. Aukon, Zargo and Camilla angrily turn on the TARDIS trio but then their bodies crumble to dust.

Kalmar and Ivo arrive. The Doctor explains that they are free. The Doctor tells them all the knowledge they need to rebuild their society is in the computer banks.

The Doctor, Romana and Adric leave in the TARDIS.

+++++

Bit of an unusual one, this. Not a story as such, not even a novelisation. What we have here is pretty much Tom Baker reading a synopsis with a few lines of dialogue still in it.

It rushes by so quickly I had to rewind it more than a few times to keep up with all the goings on. A fair few characters, many of whom don’t get named until a minute or so after their entrance. If you’re familiar with the TV episode then this is a good enough recap, but it doesn’t stand up as an audio release.

The story itself is quite entertaining.  The Doctor and Romana (with K-9 firmly out of the way in the TARDIS) in an alternate universe find a vampire stronghold (of three!) and assist the non-vampire in rebelling an overthrowing their masters.  Which they really don’t, to be honest.  Everything here is done pretty much by the Doctor alone.

Tom Baker is the Tom Baker of 1980 alright. A bit serious here, a bit more Doctor-like in his reading. Although nowadays he’s back as the Doctor (thank you, Big Finish!) he is more “Tom Baker” than he was back when this release was recorded.

All-in-all it’s another recording not worth tracking down. Although the version I have is the 1985 Ditto* release which comes with a jaunty little tune you just can’t get out of your head easily. The 1981 version is missing this, I am informed.

Next time: David Banks gives us chapter and verse on a certain metallic foe in Origins of the Cybermen.

 

*a subdivision of Pickwick.

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Force of Nature

DVD extra, 2003, BBV Video
Written by Stuart Robinson and James Potter. Music by James Potter.
Between The Terror Game and More Than a Messiah

 “Forget your big Mentor plan, our mission’s the same but now we do it my way.”

“But without the Mentor we can’t do any-”

“We don’t need him, Cain. We’ll let nature do it for us, force his own personality to come through and fight off the Estrangement. We’ll put him and the people he cares about at so much risk he won’t be able to stop himself.”

“And if he doesn’t come through then he ends up dead! Abel, it’s too dangerous.”

“We said the risks were acceptable as a last resort. This place is the last resort.”

I can’t be certain about the placing of this story. It follows on from an “emergency hop” into the Dimensional Web, as seen in the end of The Terror Game but we have Cain and Abel as the Preceptor Agents (now named) instead of Egan and Saul (David Troughton and John Wadmore). Solomon seems to have made the jump we see in the video but he hasn’t arrived on this planet which seems to be the same planet seen in More Than a Messiah. In that story only Solomon appears, no Nicola Bryant, no Wadmore and Troughton. If this is that planet then it’s a nice bit of retro-continuity.

This is another short prelude or prologue story and lasts just over ten minutes.

+++++

The two freedom fighters, Cain and Abel, have just made an emergency hop in the dimensional web, it seems with Solomon, and have appeared on an alien planet, hostile to earth human life. Solomon, however, is not arriving at the same time due to the nature of the emergency hop. Abel states he won’t arrive until ten years hence. The planet has a nearby environment dome and they swiftly realise it is in the process of being terraformed. By the time Solomon arrives the planet will be habitable.

The humans inside the dome are ruthlessly gunned down before Abel alters the computers to leave a nasty surprise for Solomon. While Cain is off dealing with another computer macguffin, Abel again hears his controlling voice.

Cain returns but before he can discuss exactly who has just mysteriously accessed the computers Abel hastily opens a portal to the Dimensional Web and hurries them both through under threat of the Protectorate locating them.

+++++

As before, the same cast. No-one else.

+++++

There’s virtually no plot to this one, it’s just an attempt to graft something onto More Than a Messiah. It’s all a bit unrewarding and unnecessary. It gets virtually nothing done in the ten minutes as opposed to the events of the preceding chunk.

Next time: Solomon appears in audio for the first time in The Stranger Chronicles I (a.k.a. The Last Mission)

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Coming of Shadows

DVD Extra, 2003, BBV Video
Written by Stuart Robinson and James Potter.  Music by James Potter.
Before Summoned by Shadows.

“I don’t like this.”

“You’re a pan-dimensional freedom-fighter on assignment in a corporeal body. What’s to like?”

“I mean the waiting around.”

“Patience, my dear Abel. Can’t just go steaming in and try to breach the Estrangement Protocols ourselves.”

“Don’t be so bloody smug, Cain. You know damn well i’m not talking about ‘Steaming In’, whatever that actually means. But instead of sitting around doing nothing – and I still don’t know how these creatures can actually do this without going mad, by the way – we could be running tests, controlled analysis, experimentation-”

“But that’s the point, isn’t it… we don’t have anyone to experiment on! There’s only one Solomon and the Estrangement Protocols are keyed to individual synaptic signatures. Even if you did get it right on one candidate – of which we have none, by the way – you’d still end up frying poor old Solomon.”

Back in the 1990s or “the dark days of Doctor Who” as some call it, it was obvious that the television series was not “resting” as the BBC insisted, but had actually been quietly cancelled.  As a result Virgin released a new novel every month, Doctor Who Magazine was at its most creative and imaginative, merchandisers went into top gear and several small groups made their own Doctor Who. Obviously wishing not to be sued they made Doctor Who without calling it Doctor Who, though it obviously was.

As discussed in previous reviews Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred were teamed up as “The Professor and Ace”, BBV audio had picked up the Nicholas Briggs’s Doctor where Audio Visuals left off… and BBV video had Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant as a pair of outsiders in sci-fi stories. Everybody knew who they were really.

But as they grew more scared of BBC lawyers suing them for every penny they had they switched Colin Baker’s character into a “freedom fighter” of an alien species who worked primarily on Earth (it’s cheaper to use real locations). Colin’s character of “The Stranger” morphed into Solomon, with able support from David Troughton and John Wadmore. A new series of guerrilla assassin stories was born.

One of the tropes of sci-fi (a lazy one, i’ve always thought and one which will be repeated in numerous audio stories in the future) is that of the hero who has lost his memory. This is set up in the first BBV Stranger story In Memory Alone. In the follow-up The Terror Game he will be made to remember his former assassin role but as he’s met humans his humanity rises to the surface and he wishes to live the quiet life of retirement.

It is also revealed that his race is a non-corporeal one and that his physical body is not his true identity, but there seem to be no limits on how long he can remain mortal.

In the video Summoned by Shadows Colin’s character has recently arrived on an un-named planet where he has decided to live the peaceful life of a hermit. The nearby residents live in a sort of post-apocalyptic world where a mysterious man (Michael “Davros” Wisher) uses people to entertain him while others search for parts from his destroyed spaceship. Eventually the required parts are reassembled but the man is revealed to be an alien who will destroy all life as he leaves, for his own amusement. Colin’s character throws a spanner in the works and the man is destroyed by his own machinery leaving the populace to go about their business.

Coming of Shadows is a prequel to this and sets up (loosely) how the Alien’s spaceship came to be destroyed.

+++++

Two non-corporeal “pan-dimensional freedom fighters”, Cain and Abel, sit waiting in a spaceship in orbiting a planet, waiting for a rendezvous with The Mentors, a race able to probe memories which they themselves can’t retrieve from Solomon, one of their own people. Solomon is on the planet below.

Cain is a plain-talking sarcastic man-on-a-mission and in charge of it. Abel is a sarcastic get-it-over-quickly man who is apparently Cain’s equal.

The Mentors arrive and, via radio, they negotiate terms while Abel is dismissed to mooch about the cargo hold. While there Abel hears a voice and is confronted by a terrifying something. While Cain talks with the Mentors, Abel is brainwashed into doing what the Something wants. He sends a signal to the enemy of the freedom fighters, the Protectorate.

Cain completes the negotiations; the Mentors want 5000 embryos because the blank minds will be something they can use in an unspecified plot. Cain doesn’t care why so doesn’t ask, but it appears that 5000 embryos is not something they will have difficulty acquiring.

Suddenly a Protectorate ship appears and Cain shoots down the Mentor ship (which crashes on the planet) to destroy all evidence.

+++++

I haven’t been able to locate any details of the cast and thanks to the subsequent rise of Harry Potter it’s now near-impossible to find James Potter on the internet.

The people portraying Cain and Abel (presumably the writers) have young voices like students, their performances are about as good as a non-actor can be, but their voices are so similar it’s hard to tell them apart.

+++++

There’s not much to say about this really. It’s basically a prologue featuring none of the people from the video, but setting up the situation. At just over 12 minutes it really is like a pre-credit sequence and as such you can’t really rate it as a story in its own right.

What there is is ok, but unremarkable. It adds a little to the story but it’s not required listening. All-in-all, its ok. If you like the deleted scenes of movies and TV shows spliced back in you’ll appreciate this.

Next time: the second DVD extra: Force of Nature

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The Wanderer: Cyber-Hunt (3/10)

CD, December 1998, BBV Audios.
Starring Nicholas Briggs.
Written by Nicholas Briggs. Music by Harvey Summers.
Between Justyce and Vital Signs.

“Olivia-“

“When someone leaves the room like that it usually means they want to be alone.”

“Are you?  Alone, I mean.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure… but it did occur to me that your mind must be so full of other people’s words and faces… full of things you’ve witnessed… it’s not like a memory, is it?  Not something you can colour and shape… it’s there… immediate… as if it’s happening all over again.”

“the functions of the implant are entirely separate from my conscious mind.”

“Is that what it says in the brochure?”

“Yes.”

“it’s a nice theory, isn’t it?”

As I previously mentioned in the review of Guests for the Night, there was a series of twenty-seven Doctor Who fan audio dramas called AudioVisuals.  After the demise of this group Bill Baggs formed his own organisation BBV.  For some reason, for the seventh BBV audio drama he decided to continue from where AudioVisuals left off.  In the end, all that came of it were two productions featuring Nicholas Briggs’s Doctor.  This is the first.  There now follows a relevant section from the Justyce.org website.  Presented here in case the site should suddenly disappear one day, is an excerpt from an interview with Nicholas Briggs:

Do you feel that the two ‘Fred’ plays were a continuation from the end of the AVs?

That’s what Bill wanted. In many ways, I was very uncomfortable doing them. But this was when I thought there was no hope of the BBC doing or licensing new Who audio. Bill was worried about getting sued by the BBC, so he wanted to further distance his ‘Who Clone’ products by casting someone who hadn’t been the Doctor (officially)… Me! I was very reluctant, but Bill was relentless and persuasive. I was doing Children In Need with him at the time. He’d given me a lot of very well paid work on that (for which I was and am extremely grateful) and consequently I felt it was almost ungrateful for me to say no. I kind of felt obliged. He would phone me very early in the morning (he was doing Breakfast TV editing), when he knew I wasn’t yet up, and give me a psychological battering. He was very determined. He *is* very determined. It’s his great strength; but it’s a bit wearing at 7am! He told me to write Doctor Who, but find some clever way of making it lawyer-proof!

Did you enjoy making Cyber-Hunt?

Yes. It was great fun. Bill did the recording and I directed. We worked very well together. Bill has a very good ear for picking up on stuff that is monotonous and needs a change of pace. He was also very good at suggesting extra lines so that certain characters were more obviously in a scene from the beginning. It’s a common fault with audio writers that they forget that a character is invisible if they don’t speak.

To what extent were the original team involved? (Bill, John, Alistair etc…)

Just Bill and me. I did the post-prod editing and Harvey Summers did the music. It overran a little, which Bill really moaned and moaned about (quite rightly), so there are some cut scenes… somewhere!

There would follow, one more Nicholas Briggs’s Doctor story Vital Signs, but several nods to the AudioVisuals will pop up in books and later, BBV video productions.  (The planet Calfadoria is mentioned in Gary Russell’s Business Unusual; a Drudger will be seen in In Memory Alone; The Temperon will appear in the first Big Finish production The Sirens of Time.)

In much the same vein as all the preceding stories we have a man who is definitely not The Doctor who travels freely through time and space in his, er, box.  And this story features Cyberons, a race of cyborgs humanoids in silver with voices exactly like 80s Cybermen, but which are definitely not Cybermen – get it?  If I say these are not licenced by the BBC you will understand the slightly different names.

+++++

The Tellurian Space Ship, Fearless, enters orbit around U49NT (Carson’s Planet) during the Cyber Wars.  Embedded with the military crew is the journalist, Olivia.  A journalist so hungry she’s had a camera implanted in her eye, a computer implanted in her head, along with a transmitter to send her reports back home.

The Fearless has arrived too late and missed the battle on the planet surface.  The only survivor left down there is a damaged 8ft tall “Class 7-A Cyberon Warrior”.  Captain Halloran decides to lead a team down on a trophy hunt, much to the dismay of Olivia.

Meanwhile, The Doctor has landed on Carson’s Planet having come directly from Salaados.  He sees the silent land as a suitable place for contemplation  and goes for a wander, bumping into the Cyberon.  The Cyberon wants to convert the Doctor so at least there’ll be more than one of them, but it’s too badly damaged to do it – so it moves to its second protocol: kill him.  A sandstorm suddenly whips up and the firing Cyberon fails to kill the doctor, merely wounding him.

A landing party has by now arrived on the planet with a squad of eight (including Olivia) and have split up into several parties.  Olivia and Halloran hear the gunfire and dash towards it.  Olivia wanders off and due to the sandstorm she finds the wounded Doctor first.  The party catches up with them when suddenly they are fired on by the Cyberon.  They return fire but  four troopers are killed.  Olivia advises leaving, but she is given a gun and ordered to get the Doctor back to the ship.

During the journey to the ship there’s some exposition about the humans fighting the Cyberons for 100 years, 400 billion dead, 200 billion humans converted – and yet it’s stalemate?

A trooper finds a tunnel, dug by the Cyberon and is killed by a booby trap.  Halloran and the last remaining trooper realise the thing is burrowing towards the landing craft and radio Olivia.  Too late, the Cyberon has got there before them and destroys it.  Halloran radios the Fearless but gets only static, perhaps due to the sandstorm or perhaps due to jamming.

The Doctor, by now, is conscious and has Convenient Amnesia meaning he doesn’t identify himself and is given the appellation, Fred, thus freeing BBV from copyright problems.  Halloran, Olivia, Fred and Grange now make off towards some distant fortifications.

The Cyberon – CyberSupervisor Unit DS104 – uploads a report to the Cyberon Command Net stating that humans have re-captured the planet and requests reinforcements.  Unusually for a Cyberon, he feels pain.

In the fort (which was originally a human base, but later captured by the Cyberons) Olivia wakes up from a painful dream.  There’s an explosion caused by the Cyberon throwing artillery shells at them from a distance.  Headsets are doled out to the Doctor and Olivia.  They are to split up and search the fort for anything useful while Halloran and Grange hold off the Cyberon.

Fred and Olivia find lots of bodies, mainly Cyberon.  Olivia hears a Cyberon voice in her head, making a report.  The Doctor hears Olivia is in some sort of trouble and rushes to her, but finds her unconscious on the floor.

Outside the firefight suddenly stops, the Cyberon has ceased attacking.  Halloran and Grange wonder if it’s dead.  Halloran contacts the Fearless and gets a garbled message about it leaving orbit.  Halloran infers that they are having their own battle in space.  Olivia radios that they’ve found something.

Fred and Olivia have located a laboratory, smashed to pieces.  As Halloran has a dressing on his wounded leg changed, the Doctor ponders why he’s found an empty, sealed container.   Grange questions if something dangerous might’ve escaped.  The Doctor repairs a microscope and probes the container.  The screen shows “nanotechs”, which the Doctor presumes are to convert humans at a molecular level.

Olivia leaves the room to make her news report.  Suddenly she hears the Cyberon voice in her head again.  She can feel its pain.  It asks her for help.  It is within the fort and meets her, pleading for her assistance.  Halloran appears and there’s a brief gun battle which ends with the Cyberon’s death and the sealed container smashes.

Grange questions why Olivia was talking to the Cyberon.  Outraged that they are suspicious of her, she storms off pursued by the Doctor.  They have a chat, the Doctor wonders what made the Cyberon emotional.

Back in the lab the Doctor puts some Cyberon blood under the microscope, discovering a chemical inhibitor in it.  As it bled the inhibitor drained away.  The Doctor tries to remove its faceplate, but the Cyberon suddenly starts to move.  Before they can suppress it they are stopped by Halloran, covered in  metal and plastic – the nanotechs having got in through his leg wound.  He holds them at bay.  Cyberon DS104 was using Olivia’s implant to boost transmission of its own signal.  Reinforcements are coming.

CyberHalloran, distracted by a signal from the Cyberon ship is gunned down by Grange.  The surviving Cyberon is afraid and asks why.  The Doctor explains and attempts to remind the emotional machine of it’s pre-Cyberon existence.  The Cyberon remembers its childhood and realises Cyberons are not superior to human life.  Leaving the fort, the party bumps into the Cyberon reinforcements.

The humans are manacled and taken to the Cyberon ship, to be used as guinea pigs by the Cyberons.  Now repaired, Cyberon DS104 is returned to supervising duty aboard as the ship lifts off to rejoin the fleet.

In the cells, Cyberon DS104 meets the humans.  Olivia is still able to mentally connect with it, the replacement inhibitor fluid has not yet taken effect.  Nevertheless, it injects them as ordered.  Elsewhere on the ship, Nanotechs emerge from tubes, attacking all Cyberon life.  Cyberon DS104 had reprogrammed them to annihilate the Cyberons, the memory of its childhood propelling it to destroy them.  Then it too, dies.

The Fearless arrives on the scene, the Doctor sets the guidance system of the Cyberon ship towards the fleet and ramming speed, and also sets the self-destruct.  The humans eject in escape pods.

Some time later Olivia is reporting the rebuilding of Carson’s Planet.  Grange has been promoted and the Doctor’s been successfully treated for amnesia.  Meeting her outside the TARDIS, she asks

“What shall I call you?”

“Fred’s a good enough name!”

he replies.  Then his ship leaves…

+++++

So obviously, as well as playing The Doctor, Nicholas Briggs also plays the Cyberon.  Well why not?  He has the Moogerfooger after all.  The Cyberons sound exactly like a David Banks Cyberman, which is a wise decision I think.  You instantly have an image in your head of a silver giant stomping around the desert.  You can also spot him as a tannoy voice aboard the Fearless.  Briggs is solid and dependable in this.  Not a standout but a good performance.

The improbably named Helen Bang actually doesn’t appear to be a pseudonym!  Here she is at imdb, but for obvious reasons she’s not easily googled.  Another good performance here, but her American accent is… it’s bad.  Think Peri.  It was a foolish, and unnecessary, idea to make her American at all.  The worst thing about faking an American accent is that if you haven’t tweaked the dialogue for an American vocabulary you’re on a hiding to nothing.  Americans simply do not talk like British people, every idiom needs to be selected carefully.  It’s like how Peri would refer to a Lift when realistically she should say Elevator.  Helen Bang should’ve just played it with her normal accent.

Robert Boole is listed as “CyCom” which I presume to be the Cyberleader that appears near the end.  No sign of a Robert Boole anywhere on the internet so I’m going to say it’s a pseudonym like David Sax is.  Nicholas Briggs, obviously.

Now Andrew Fettes, who plays Halloran, definitely exists.  As you can see, he’s worked a lot in Who.  Unfortunately he’s playing a one-note “Grr, I hate them [enemy] a lot!” parts so really it’s not a part he can shine in.  I can’t tell you if he’s any better or worse than another guy in his place.  It’s simply too bland a part to arouse any interest.  I will say this, however: Andrew Fettes has also gone to the Helen Bang school of accents and has pulled a Generic Scottish accent out of the box, which is extremely painful to listen to.  Only someone who has no idea where Scotland is on a map will enjoy it.

Andrew James Dickens and Stephen Franklin finish off the cast but as minor, uninteresting soldiers there’s really nothing for them to get their teeth into.  Oh well.

The music is good, but again there’s not much to raise interest.  Sorry, I’m losing the will on this story.

+++++

You can probably tell I was less than enthused about this story.  It’s a very simple story stretched over 73 minutes.  There’s not
much done with the communication between the Cyberon and Olivia, this could have been fleshed out rather than the extended Exploring the Desert stuff.  There’s a lot of signposting of events, as soon as we had a woman with implants in a cybernetic story you know there’s going to be secret communications but such as there is, is dull and uneventful.  She’s not taken over or questioning her beliefs or anything.  Halloran, however, is taken over in a matter of seconds it seems.  Which is a bloody fast time to be covered in plastic and metal.  It’s just unbelievable.  As unbelievable as a man with a leg wound in a room where Nanos are known to be not being properly scanned, even though they say they’re scanning him!

The soldiers are given names only to then be bumped off a few seconds later.  If there’s multiple characters I’m trying to recall which character is which and if I’ve remembered something only to have that knowledge become useless I feel I’ve wasted valuable thinking time.  I’m not even going to talk about the amazing burrowing Cyberon – faster than a speeding bullet!

It’s a stodgy, dull story.  It’s the sort of unexciting plot you’d expect in a turgid 70 low-budget ecological pot-boiler.  Its as unexciting as a Dalek Empire story.  Coincidentally it’s written by the same man.  This could well be the beginning of my dislike for Nicholas Briggs stories.  Maybe I’m being unfair.  I have re-listened to all the AudioVisuals stories, many of which were by Briggs, and I actually enjoyed some of them.  I just don’t think he’s a consistent writer.

And now I fear I must push some of the dreadful dialogue upon you.  The first two examples are made in Fettes’s terrible Scottish accent so no matter how many times I listen, I can’t make out one of the words.  Why not try to say the following in your own Bad Scottish Accent and see how awkward it is to say:

“They can run at speeds of up to 40kph for sustained periods. How are we going to match that not counting the added disadvantage of my rather undignifying wound?”

and

“We’ve got two choices as far as I see it: either we kill ourselves or in a couple of hours we’ll be marching about with hairdryers on our heads and blue gunge for blood. Excuse me while I decorate those [unintelligible] with the back end of my brainpan.”

“Just a minute, sergeant! Take that gun out of your mouth!”

It’s execrable.  I can’t bear to listen to clunky dialogue like this.  Briggs has written a lot of scripts by 1998 and should know better about such sentences.  If the story wasn’t as uninteresting as this, all we needed was bad dialogue too.  Ugh.

The Cyberons would return in a BBV video.

+++++

Next time: Colin Baker and Elisabeth Sladen take the BBV shilling in The Stranger Chronicles

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Guests for the Night [v2] (7/10)

CD, November 1998, BBV Audios
Starring Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred
Written by Nigel Fairs.  Music by Harvey Summers.
Between The Other Side and Ghosts

Daniel:    Have you got any other house guests?

Cicely:    Oh no, it’s only the three of us at the moment: Me, Harold and Nanny. But she lives in the attic and so she doesn’t really count. So tell me: what brings you all out here in the middle of the night?

Daniel:    I’m looking for my sister, Tessa Armiston. Have you seen her?

Cicely:    I’m not sure. What does she look like?

Daniel:   Smaller than me; brown hair. She’s a student.

Cicely:    A student? I’m afraid we don’t get many students around here. What was she studying?

Daniel:    Temporal physics.

Cicely:    Oh really, how interesting.

Doctor: (pricking up) Indeed?

Cicely:     And were you her temporal phsyics teacher?

Doctor:   Me? Oh no, I’m a… an out of work interior decorator.

Cicely:     How jolly!  But I was sure I heard your little friend call you a Professor just now.

Ace:         Little f-

Doctor:    Oh that’s a pseudonym. I’ve been thrown out of so many high-class establishments I had to adopt one.

I could tell you about this production, but it’s better to quote part of an interview of Nigel Fairs from the AudioVisuals website in 2000.

Bill approached me for Guests for the Night, although he hadn’t even heard Pisces, in fact I only told him very recently that that was Pisces rewritten. Maybe it was John Ainsworth who approached me saying that Bill wanted scripts, and John said “Why not rewrite Guests for the Night?”, which was one of the Pisces episodes that John was in, because he said it was really very Doctor Who, so I did. It was lovely to work with Sylvester and Sophie, I was a very camp zombie, and the line about Mr. Crouch was my nod towards the Audio Visuals.

+++++

Ace and the Doctor arrive at Verspertine Lodge in the year 2036. Vespertine is a scientific name for “occurring in the evening”, which sets the scene for this story. The Doctor is looking for “the point of stillness” a technobabble term which just seems to mean a very calm place. He says that Harold Posidor will discover it in the future. Harold Posidor is a character taken from an Audio Visuals story which starred Nigel Fairs as the Doctor’s companion.

It’s gone midnight, Ace goes to enquire at the lodge while the Doctor is caught up in his musings. Suddenly the Doctor is halted by a gun-toting man called Daniel Armiston. Ace returns silently and disarms him. The Doctor was not concerned because what Daniel thought was a gun was a piece of a solar power system in the grounds. Daniel is here looking for his missing sister. Ace reports that the house is in ruins.

Nevertheless they make their way up to it, along the way they both feel an unaccountable feeling, as though a warm ghost has passed through them. Arriving at the lodge they are surprised to see the building is in fine shape and there are lights inside. Knocking on the door they’re greeted by a butler, Webster, who informs them that “the master is away” but still lets them in. He intones that the mistress Cicely will be down shortly to greet them. He shows them to the library. There’s a lovely moment here where the Doctor makes a snipe at a character once played by Nigel Fairs!

They quickly get shown into the dining room where, upon looking out of the window, the Doctor realises the stars are in the wrong place. They have travelled in time (backwards I believe). Cicely enters and after a very brief meal they are invited to stay the night. Harold, Cicely’s brother, joins them and she retires. The Doctor is, to Ace’s alarm, unusually tired. Harold retires for a private conversation with Cicely whereupon they divvy up the three strangers. Daniel wants “the boy” Daniel and it’s obvious what his intentions are.

Webster shows them to their rooms. Ace stays to chat with the Doctor in his room, it is clear that she doesn’t like Webster one bit. The Doctor goes out to examine the ornamental. Ace finds herself locked in.

Daniel wakes up to find Harold beside him. Cecily drugged the spinach, he tells him. Harold offers to lead Daniel to where Tessa is. He shows him to a room with pipes which he calls the waste disposal room. Tessa was there this morning, he relates. Harold has medical experiments to do, his father left him a sizeable task which he doesn’t feel like doing. He has his own projects.

Webster unlocks Ace. He won’t stop following her as she explores the house. She goes into Harold’s room, shutting Webster out. She finds listening devices, then triggers a booby trap which renders her unconscious. When she comes to, Ace has to fight robots that Harold built. Webster turns them off. Ace finds Harold’s bed, except it isn’t a bed. It’s a coffin.

In the garden the Doctor’s looking at the solar-powered equipment when Cecily arrives. She pours him a glass of wine, which he drinks. He starts to feel sleepy again. A clock strikes twelve. The Doctor suddenly becomes concerned for his friends’ safety. Touching Cicely he notes her skin is cold to the touch. Cicely laughs, saying they’re all dead.

Daniel can barely stay conscious. Harold shows him the remains of Tess and laughs. Carrying Daniel to a table he straps him down and is about to perform a ‘procedure’ when Cicely calls him. She has a body in the ornamental garden she wants moved. Webster brings a restrained Ace in. Harold kills Daniel before her eyes. Webster reminds Harold that time is running out, Harold is about to rush off to bed when Ace bolts from the room.

Cicely calls Nanny about the Doctor’s body. Nanny is a strange old woman who mutters to herself.

Ace finds the Doctor in the garden but she can’t wake him. Webster appears and there’s a gunshot.

It is morning. Ace wakes up with a tremendous headache. In order to escape from another of Harold’s robots she runs up a flight of stairs.

Nanny is about to cut up the Doctor for “meat” but is severely hampered by arthritis in her hands. The Doctor offers to help cure her, “I used to be a Doctor!”. But Nanny is too wily for such escape plans. Suddenly Ace bursts in and knocks Nanny out. Freeing the Doctor, he tells her that Harold, Cicely and Webster are all zombies. Nanny’s job is to break down the bodies of their victims, pouring the ‘soup’ down the pipes. But where do the pipes go? The Doctor realises that the ‘warm ghost’ feeling outside the house was them passing through the walls of a time bubble. A natural event, apparently, they are trapped in constant time, which is why it’s always night. “It’s not night though, it’s morning!” Ace tells him. He tells her his own revelation: Nanny is not dead, she’s warm to the touch. He cures her arthritis and they bind Nanny up in restraints.

Searching for the destination of the pipes, the Doctor, Nanny and Ace are halted on the landing by a robot. Ace rushes to Harold’s room to switch it off. The Doctor is taken by Nanny to a room with a nutrient vat bubbling away, the pipes leading to it. “Daddy” is inside in suspended animation. There’s some technobabble here about Daddy finding the ‘point of stillness’ and harnessing it to bring Webster, Harold and Cicely back on the point of death from a disease which almost killed all of them. It’s quite confusing, but the upshot is that they have to return to the vats to re-energise themselves, whenever morning is close. Nanny is revealed to be Daddy’s wife who refused to go into suspended animation and has therefore aged.

Daddy put himself in the vat with instructions for Harold to find the cure to the disease and then he’d be brought out of suspended animation. Morning ends; Harold and Cicely are with them, angry at Nanny for revealing the secret. Harold sets a robot on her for punishment but Nanny is killed. Arguing amongst themselves, Harold and Cicely don’t want to do the hard work of cutting up the bodies. The Doctor interrupts; he can cure their father and there’ll be no work to do at all. He can make nano-robots which will enter Daddy’s body and repair him. They both agree, but the Doctor insists Ace is released.

Cicely has Webster bring Ace in. Webster calls them both fools. If Daddy is released they will all be left to rot. He knows Daddy better than they; Daddy was a very selfish man who wouldn’t want them around as reminders of his dead kin. Harold sets a robot on Webster, silencing him forever. Ace leaps up angrily, does something (which isn’t terribly clear on audio) and Daddy’s vat is destroyed. Daddy had a button for a ‘Time Prohibitor’ in his hand and when the suspended animation was ended his hand slipped off, causing time to continue at last. Harold and Cecily died instantly.

The Doctor rounds angrily on Ace; she says that Daddy was evil and needed to be killed; he says she never met the man and is in the wrong. He quickly calms her down, but she is weary of the emotional turmoil of seeing so much death. They leave the house.

+++++

Sylvester McCoy! What more needs to be said? He’s excellent on audio and has never been less than excellent since!

Sophie Aldred is equally as impressive. This is the same Ace you got on TV from 1987-1989. There’s a subtle difference with the Big Finish Ace which is hard to put into words, but she’s far more adult in Big Finish. Here she’s still the troubled teen, all impulsive and action. She reacts rather than thinks. Just goes to show how much Big Finish have moved her on.

Catherine Debenham-Taylor is a bit of an enigma. She’s played in Panto with Toyah Wilcox, but is otherwise traceable as a stage actress in 1997/8. I can’t find her in anything after then. Nevertheless she’s very good in this. Much more restrained than her counterpart in the Cranfield Sound Productions version. Very believable as a spoilt upper class woman. I liked her, despite knowing what she was going to do!

Oliver Bradshaw gives a Webster who sounds incredibly like the butler from Count Duckula and that’s the image I had in my head throughout! He’s a little bit played-for-laughs, but that’s not out of place in this production.

Nigel Fairs is much better here than he was as Anton Savage. Here he’s believable as the psychotic homosexual killer. Why he doesn’t have his way with Daniel before killing him I don’t know. Ah well! In just five years Mr Fairs has really come on as an actor. Hard to believe it’s the same man really! He also re-wrote and directed this version of Guests for the Night. Very well done too.

Julia Akerman is a bit OTT as Nanny. It’s perhaps not meant to be treated as a serious story though, so maybe she’s right? I know this is a much more comic telling than the Cranfield version but I still think she’s pushed the comedy voice a bit too far. She is still listed as a voice actress today, but there’s very little else in the public domain for her.

Max Day as Daniel. This is another one of those, “I can’t find anything about him” people. He’s good in this, actually… rather good. Never seems to have done anything else as an actor. There’s a couple of people listed on imdb as part of a film crew but no way of discerning if either is him.

Now the music, by Harvey Summers is great! Before I listened to this audio I had a very brief correspondence with Nigel Fairs on Twitter and the first thing he said was that the music was “an absolute joy”. And so it is. There’s a grand, epic tune at the beginning and much jaunty music during it. Switching effortlessly to creepy and other moods Harvey Summers is just plain excellent here. He has gone on to much better things, but if he’s ever at a loose end I’d love him to do something for Big Finish. Really great!

+++++

So having listened to this and the previous version of this what do I think? It’s essentially a straight retelling of the Cranfield Productions version with Pisces, Alitza and Anton replaced by the Doctor, Ace and Daniel. Vena gets a more serious name, Cicely and both her and Harold switch from being outrageous American accents to being British.

Where this differs is that the moments which made me puzzled in the previous edition have been addressed in this one. It’s as if Nigel Fairs has answered all my criticisms retrospectively. There’s less craziness, less wacky zaniness and a more coherent story shines through. It’s clear now that Harold, Webster and Cicely are definitely NOT vampires. The Doctor describes them as Zombies but they really don’t eat anyone in this or make any suggestion that they would. They are just people who aren’t entirely dead yet so there’s no “why aren’t they dead?” problems. And Daddy’s power to hold back time is given a believable scientific reason.

Not only has this version tidied up the explanations, we also get a tighter script. Everything has a sense to it now, I think. I don’t want to listen to this story another time though to see if I missed anything!

Another huge improvement is that this is just so much funnier! At one point you hear Webster go “aaaargh!” and the sound of dinner crashing to the floor. Cicely simply remarks

Ah, I hear Webster’s on his way!

There’s also a great in-joke for anyone who’s heard the AudioVisuals where the Doctor rubbishes a book by Truman Crouch and says he should have stuck to making tea. If you know the AV productions this will make you grin. If not, it quickly passes you by. It also implies that Nicholas Briggs’s Doctor is the same person that Sylvester McCoy’s is.

To sum up, this is a vast improvement on the earlier version and redeems it for me. Well done Nigel Fairs!

Next time: Nicholas Briggs IS The Doctor Fred vs The Cybermen Cyberons in Cyber-Hunt!

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Guests for the Night [v1] (4/10)

Audiocassette, 1993, Cranfield Sound Productions
Starring Nigel Fairs, Linda Bartram, Lizi Hann
Written by Nigel Fairs. Music by Alistair Lock.
Non-canonical, but after The Huntress and before Lyr

Trailer.

“Where are you? I see nobody!”

“That is because there’s nobody to see, Pisces! Only the darkness.”

“That is not possible.”

“Who are you to say what is possible and what is not?”

“Without a form you cannot-”

There is nothing I cannot do. Especially here, where it is always night.”

“Always?”

“My powers are strong here. Be aware.”

“You need a form, a host body. How else are we to fight?”

“There are other ways. The rules of the game are changing, Pisces, as we reach the end.”

The end?”

“It’s nearer than you think. Be aware, Pisces.”

“I shall be prepared.”

“I too! In the meantime we play the game.”

“It is no game!”

“The rules are changing, Pisces! Darkness approaches!”

In 1984 a group of Doctor Who fans began producing their own audio adventures of Doctor Who, under the name of Audio Visuals. From the timing I’m going to assume it was a reaction to the new Doctor and his less than stellar first adventure. My thought is they saw it and thought “I don’t like this, let’s make our own”. They began to meet up and record stories together. In the pre-digital era everything was on cassette and multi-track equipment meant a reduction in quality with every dub. CDs were still very new and I don’t believe anyone but professionals had the equipment to burn CDs even if the costs weren’t prohibitive. Also, computers were still in their infancy; desktop publishing was not available to all so the packaging of the cassettes was photocopied artwork onto coloured paper. It was the best they could do back then.

By the time of the second story, Nicholas Briggs had stepped into the role of the Doctor and would remain in the part until 1999 when Big Finish Productions (with a much better budget and equipment) was able to cast the fifth, sixth and seventh Doctors in the part. The chronology of it goes something like this:

Bill Baggs, Gary Russell and Nicholas Briggs were Audio Visuals. Eventually Bill Baggs went his own way with BBV; Russell and Briggs went to form Big Finish. Nigel Fairs was Nick Briggs’s second companion and had also started writing. When he was written out of the Audio Visuals he started a third arm as Cranfield Sound Productions. The four seemed to have parted amicably as there is some crossover of the roles in each of the three arms. Nick Briggs worked with Baggs, Nigel Fairs worked with Baggs and now works with Big Finish.

There’s a very good interview of Nigel Fairs on the AudioVisuals tribute site, here which will fill in all the details.

Cranfield Sound Productions were recording a series of linked adventures called Pisces. Each story was involved with a sign of the zodiac and there were twelve episodes to be recorded. There are five in existence, but the Pisces website indicates that the sixth story was recorded.

The first story is about a man who’s training as a professional swimmer (Aquarius, see?) when he meets a mysterious woman, Pisces. It turns out that this man, Anton Savage, has a power. He can roll back time. Pisces is some sort of mystical being who has come to recruit him in a fight against a villainous power, Darkness (Nicholas Briggs). Her power is that of healing. In the third story they meet another woman with powers, Alitza. She is a savage very much in the mould of Leela. Her power seems to be over the elements, both creating and dispelling a violent storm in The Huntress (Sagittarius, you see?).

They’re in a perpetual battle against a non-corporeal force called Darkness. It just cackles a lot and occasionally possesses people.

The next story is Guests for the Night, which will later be remade by BBV with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred replacing Pisces, Anton and Alitza. In order to compare the two productions I have listened to the CSP version and here are my thoughts.

+++++

In a remote house, after midnight, a Master Harold is playing a cruel practical joke on his butler, Webster, when his sister Vena enters to tell him that three people are approaching. These three people are Anton Savage, Pisces and Alitza. Alitza the huntress has been checking the grounds out and reports back that the place is full of booby traps, setting the scene that this is a dangerous place.

Vena commands the now-released Webster to get out the best silverware. Their guests are going to be spoiled. Webster lets in the three strangers who are immediately taken to the dining room for a meal. Their hosts are not there. Anton describes the place as being “like Frankenstein’s castle”. In the hallway a monstrous hound has killed the pet cat and Alitza shares the kill with the dog, taking the legs for herself, which she begins to eat. Raw.

Vena appears, at first horrified but very quickly she gives up the pretence of caring. She tells them that her father is away on business, but they will meet her brother in due course. Officially recognised as guests they are then shown to bedrooms. Alitza, unhappy with the knife she has taken from the dining room heads to the kitchen to get a better one. Pisces has a room of her own, leaving Vena alone with Anton. She flirts outrageously and then gives Anton a drink while promising to slip into something more comfortable.

Pisces has been taunted by the voice of Darkness. She goes to check on Anton and finds him drugged and alone. She wakes him, only to hear the clock strike twelve. Midnight. They decide to find Alitza.

In the kitchen Alitza is doing battle with a robot that has attacked her. There are a series of robots, all created by Harold. As she defeats one he wheels in another, more advanced model for her to fight. His robots are not enough for him, he wants a cyborgs and decides Alitza will be a good survivor of the organic components.

On the stairs Anton falls through a trap door into a room off the kitchen. Webster intercepts Pisces and takes her to Vena.

Running from Harold’s needle, Alitza locks herself in a dark room which Anton fell into, moments before. There are many animal bodies, all drained of blood. Alitza’s keen eyesight finds another exit. In the next room they find three empty coffins. A robot breaks in and Alitza is paralysed by an injection. Anton is taken away by Webster, wondering where the pipes in the cellar go.

Vena is not happy with Pisces’s snooping but offers to give her a tour in the morning. Webster brings Pisces a drink. Shortly after drinking she realises she has been drugged. The clock strikes midnight. Before passing out Pisces touches Vena’s skin. It is cold to the touch, Vena cackles that she is dead like everyone else in the house. Vena sends Pisces’s body up to her ‘granny’ in the attic.

Harold has Alitza strapped to a table and gagged. He boasts that he cuts people up at night for experiments. Webster intervenes, surly and angry. Harold and Vena are wasting time, he says he will tell Harold’s father so Harold reluctantly leaves. Vena is tormenting Anton when Webster interrupts her too. Informing her that it is ten to the hour, she leaves hurriedly. Webster sends Anton and Alitza up to the attic for Granny.

In the attic Granny is ready to cut up the still alive bodies for meat when Pisces persuades her that she should be released. Granny has painful arthritis which Pisces heals. Suddenly it’s morning. Pisces realises that Darkness will be weak at this hour. She finds that Granny is warm to the touch, the only living person in the house. She makes Granny show her where the pipes lead. Granny is scared of Harold and Vena. She’s told she is safe while it’s morning, so complies.

Granny takes her to a body in a vat, in suspended animation. It is “Daddy”, Vena and Harold’s father. Vena, Harold, Webster, Granny and Daddy were all infected by a disease. Vena, Harold and Webster died and Daddy put himself in suspended animation while his undead children went on with their undead existences. Daddy, even in suspended animation, has the power to hold back time, creating nights that go on endlessly. His power slips sometimes, causing the occasional morning, when Granny (his wife) ages. Darkness has tried to possess Granny, but she has managed to resist him, to his fury.

Alitza and Anton are free. The hound, now possessed by Darkness, leads them to Pisces.

Suddenly it’s midnight again. Harold and Vena appear. Harold is angry with Granny and sets his robot on her to punish her but accidentally kills her. Harold and Vena fight, not wanting to do the hard work that Granny did. Pisces tells them she can heal their father and they will not have any more work to do. Webster calls them idiots. Their father was a tyrant who will have them buried as soon ass he returns. Harold has the robot kill Webster. Pisces heals Daddy and while distracted Alitza kills Harold and Vena, to Pisces’s ire.

Darkness reveals that Daddy has been in his thrall all along and spirits him away. Pisces, Anton and Alitza have more battles to fight.

+++++

A complaint I have about the Audio Visuals is that pseudonyms abound like mad. I don’t know if this has spread to the Cranfield players so I can’t be certain that everyone listed is under their real names.

Pisces, played by Linda Bartram has gone on to be involved in BBV’s Faction Paradox productions and appeared in one Big Finish play.

Anton Savage is played by Nigel Fairs, the production’s author. He has previously been Truman Crouch, the Doctor’s assistant in the Audio Visuals series. He is still an actor and writes regularly for Big Finish.

Lizi Hann (Alitza) is apparently still an actress though there’s virtually nothing on the internet about her. She wrote a book in 1998 about Dementia.

Penny Horder played Vena. I can find nothing about her, but she played the part with such an outrrrrrageous Southern Belle accent that she could easily be Lizi Hann or Linda Bartram doubling up.

Harry was played by Michael Adams, such a common name that it’s not even worth researching.

Webster is John Ainsworth, mentioned in several previous entries of this blog!

Darkness is Nick Briggs, of whom little needs to be said. A stalwart of audio productions since 1985 and the head honcho at Big Finish Productions.

Each of the actors here are very early in their careers and the performances reflect that. They are awkward but doing their best. It’s an amateur production and you should suspend your willing disbelief when listening to any of these or any AudioVisual productions. Just listen to the words and try to imagine they’re good actors.

The same is true of the music. Alastair Lock has provided great music in some things… but not this.

There’s also a feature about Lizi Hann on the cassette which just shows what a bubbly funny person she is!

+++++

There’s more than a whiff of Paradise Towers here. Everyone’s a bit over the top but it’s such a wild plot that I can forgive it. It’s a story of undead people performing medical experiments in order to cure a time-freezing semi-unconcious man in a vat. You can’t really expect it to be terribly serious! It’s not clear why Harold, Vena and Webster aren’t dead nor why Darkness has an interest in the place.

It’s not clear why Pisces and Co have gone there, either. There’s references to vampires and coffins but the plot doesn’t actually seem to imply that at all. Harold and Vena just are undead, they don’t seem to ingest any of the human flesh or blood. Harold seems to be a medical genius, carrying on his father experiments but there’s no indication of scientific equipment. He makes robots but seemingly for no purpose other than to fight each other.

Essentially… it’s a mess. It’s all about the atmosphere and the wacky machinations of the family. There’s very little to get your teeth into, it’s just a runaround. Lots of independent scenes and not much logic. A bit of an 80s schlocky low-budget video nasty. You shouldn’t think about it as much as I have.

If you can get over the performances I’d say it’s a fun romp, but there’s very little value here. The ending is sudden and an anti-climax, if listened to as a stand-alone drama, but as part of a twelve part what-happens-next? serial it’s an acceptable ending. If you’ve ever seen Into the Labyrinth it’s just like that. A time-filler, leading you on to the next story.

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The Other Side (8/10)

CD, September 1998, BBV Audios
Starring Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred
Written by Mark Duncan. Music by Harvey Summers.
Between The Left Hand of Darkness and Guests for the Night

 

“What was that? The Professor! Looking down at me! Talking to me!”

“It’s a delusion.”

“It didn’t feel like it. It felt real.”

“Cos it was real. Your final moment, the last memory and the more you try desperately clinging to an illusion of life the worse it becomes. You will find yourself reliving your death over and over again cos it’s the only moment of that life you have left now. Do you really want Death as your only reality, forever?”

“If you think I’m just going to roll over and give up cos you say so, you’ve got another think coming! If you can find the Professor so can I!”

“You always did things your own way. But ask yourself: are you really doing it for you or just cos you feel obligauted to do it for the Professor? Think about it and remember what I’ve said. The more you go back, the longer you stay, the greater the pain.”

Another one by the enigma that is Mark Duncan. If you find out anything about him please let me know! Like the story previous, this one has minimal Sylvester McCoy in it, presumably so that they could record his lines all in one day for the two stories. It’s another ‘two hander’ with the majority of it being dialogue between Ace and her Nan.

+++++

The Doctor has successfully got Ace home. They roam the locality of what is presumably Perivale, even visiting what appears to be the same community centre seen in Survival. Like Survival there’s no-one around. Until Ace spots her friend Mischa, runs to catch up with her… and gets knocked down by a car. She’s quickly back up on her feet but The Doctor and the car driver are unaware of her presence. They’re more concerned with the body of the young woman on the ground. Ace’s body.

Ace whirls round to see her Nan. Her Nan who died ten years ago. Her Nan who tells her she too is dead.

Informed that her essence has left her body, never to return, Ace is in denial. Ace’s Nan tells her she’s there to help her with the transition to the other side.

An ambulance arrives and the ambulanceman declares Ace dead. The Doctor is, of course, upset. Her body is loaded into the ambulance and the Doctor accompanies her on her final journey, leaving the spirit/ghost/soul behind at the spot, aghast. Still unbelieving that her Nan is really her Nan (she even speculates it’s an alien in disguise!) her Nan recounts her own death to her. How Ace was the one who found her body. Nan is friendly and consoling. Ace is as warm and approachable as she was with Dorsai, which is to say not at all.

Her Nan assures her that sudden death can make a spirit want to hold on to the real world instead of moving on. She should accept her death, her Nan will ease her on to the next place. Ace is resistant. Nan makes disparaging remarks about Ace wanting a father figure, presumably to cause Ace to release her hope that the Doctor will yet do something for her. Nan remembers how Ace dealt with her death. She witnessed Ace bottling up her grief and turning to trouble. She recalls how Ace’s mother (no longer with Ace’s father) turned to the bottle. Ace still resists.

Ace’s ghost and her Nan whiz forward to the hospital where they witness a tearful Doctor. He is taken to the chapel of rest where he says goodbye to her body. Nan remarks that he’ already beginning to let go, as he has had to do so many times before.

They whiz on to Ace’s funeral. The Doctor did not attend, he’s already out there, getting on with his life. Nan continues to press Ace to resign herself to the facts. Ace believes she hears the Doctor calling to her. She praises all he had done for her, treating her like a worthy individual when no-one else did.

Whizzing on, it’s six months later and the Doctor has a new travelling companion, Nadia. Ace is instantly jealous, annoyed that Nadia doesn’t look out for the Doctor how she did. Whizzing on to the end of a successful Doctor and Nadia adventure, Ace is crushed to see the Doctor doesn’t need her. This causes her to break down and accept her fate.

In the ambulance, the Doctor is disturbed from his reveries by the ambulanceman seeing a glow on Ace’s face.

Ace recounts to her Nan the loneliness of Dorsai. A machine with a need for others. She doesn’t want half a life any more than he did.

The Doctor tells the ambulanceman that Ace’s mind has been infiltrated by a malevolent alien entity. He attempts to communicate with her telepathically.

Ace’s Nan has Ace ready to cross into ‘the light’. She’s about to step through when suddenly she hears the Doctor urging her to fight. Realising that her Nan is not her Nan, Ace refuses to cross. The alien says the vortex needs her. Ace calls it a parasite and that she’ll never do what it wants. She surmises that the creature is trapped too, between Life and Death. It wants to take her body and escape. The alien tells her it can destroy her mind and thus her body. The alien hurts Ace but she will not give in. So it conjures up her dark side, a second Ace who is not afraid of her cruel impulses, thrives on them. The bad Ace will bond with the alien and live out a hedonistic life without the weaknesses of compassion and trust that the good side of Ace possesses.

Ace reminds the bad Ace of Dorsai’s loneliness. His “half a life” was not enough and it wouldn’t be for her either. The bad Ace realises Ace is correct and they unite against it, forcing it to flee her body. Where does it go? Who knows…

Suddenly, to the Doctor’s happiness, Ace comes round in the back of the ambulance, unscathed and a lot happier with who she is. Ace checks herself out of the ambulance and they leave, in high spirits.

+++++

Another very small cast here. Barbara Shelley is truly excellent here. A seasoned actress, having worked from the fifties as one of Hammer‘s leading stars in multiple films. She was also in a televised Doctor Who serial, Planet of Fire and the BBV video More Than a Messiah. It’s a pleasant change to get a mature actress playing an elderly lady when so far in such ‘fan productions’ it’s usually been much younger actors and actresses putting on an old person voice. It really helps you to believe that this is Ace’s grandmother. I would remind you that her Nan would of course be the young woman with the baby from The Curse of Fenric.

Sophie Aldred is at her best in this story, really inhabiting Ace, finally given some meaty acting to do. According to the liner notes, at the most emotional moments when Ace was crying, Sophie was so caught up in the emotion that she cried real tears.

Sylvester is of course his usual majestic, commanding Doctor. He doesn’t have much to do, but he emotes sadness and grief so effectively you’ll want to give him a hug. An underestimated actor.

As the Doctor’s ‘new companion’ Nadia, Jane Burke is magnificent. She’s a self-obsessed dyed blonde follower of fashion. The sort of person who really would enjoy Big Brother and celebrity magazines in this day. It’s a bit of a shame she was a fiction dreamed up by the alien as she was a refreshing change from the usual companion! I would have liked to heard her in more audios.

Jack Galagher is the Paramedic and performs adequately though not a natural actor I’d say, he seemed nervous in the part. He’s gone on to appear in several Big Finish plays so I assume he’s got better over time!

In small roles there’s the ever-dependable Alistair Lock and John Ainsworth, regular fixtures in Doctor Who audios to this day, though mainly behind the microphones now.

Since the last review I’d managed to ascertain that Harvey Summers is this Harvey Summers, a successful composer, musician and record producer! Unfortunately there’s not much music in this to recommend, it’s mainly the post production and atmosphere he provides here. What little music is in this, and there’s barely any, is effective. Mostly what you notice about his work here is the ambience of each room, location… and of course Limbo, where Ace spends most of the story.

A new edition to the end of this CD is a round table of Sophie, Bill Baggs, Alistair Lock and John Ainsworth. Bill Baggs makes it clear this is a continuation of the AudioVisuals’s “On Tape” interviews which came after the stories on those cassettes. It’s a fascinating insight to what it meant to each of them back then, in the pre-Big Finish days.

+++++

Another psychological study of Ace here, once more putting her through the emotional wringer. Like the previous story she is separated from the Doctor and slowly broken down, made to believe things are hopeless and give up. Although this time she has more to lose than just living an isolated life, this time she will stop living completely.

It’s an examination of what makes Ace tick. How did she come to be the troubled teenager we all know so well. Why did her mother become an alcoholic? How did she react to the death of the relation she was closest to? How does she think the Doctor sees her? Why does she have such faith in the Doctor and how will she feel when he leaves her behind?

All told, this is a great insight into Ace’s feelings and reasons for the way she behaves. It’s gruelling though, stripping down her artifices to see the person behind. You may want something warm and fuzzy to uplift you after hearing this. A compelling story and a high point of the BBV audios.

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